|Genre(s)||Platformer, Run and gun, Metroidvania|
Blaster Master is a platform and run and gun video game released by Sunsoft for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It is a localized version of a Japanese Famicom game titled Chô Wakusei Senki Metafight (超惑星戦記メタファイト, lit. "Super Planetary War Records: Metafight", also simply called Metafight), which was released on June 17, 1988 . The game was released in North America in November 1988 and in Europe on April 25, 1991 . The game is the first in the Blaster Master series, and it spawned two spin-off titles as well as two sequels.
The game features a character named Jason who follows his pet frog Fred down a hole in the earth. There he finds a tank and uses it to battle radioactive mutants. The player controls Jason and the tank Sophia the 3rd through eight levels of gameplay to find the whereabouts of Fred and to defeat the mutants and their leader, the Plutonium Boss. The game was praised for its smooth play control and level designs, detailed and clean graphics, and music, and it was criticized for its high difficulty level and lack of passwords or save points. The game was novelized by Peter Lerangis, as part of the Worlds of Power series published by Scholastic Books.
In the Japanese version (Chō Wakusei Senki Metafight), the plot is only explained in the manual. The game takes place on the planet Sophia the 3rd, located near the center of the Epsilon Galaxy, in which an advanced civilization flourished. In the year 2052 of the space age calendar, the Inbem Dark Star Army, led by the universe's most feared tyrant Goez, invade and conquer Sophia the 3rd. The Science Academy of NORA, a satellite orbiting near Sophia the 3rd that somehow managed to avoid the invasion, built a weapon, an all-purpose tank called the "Metal Attacker", in a last-ditch effort to defeat Goez's army. A young soldier named Kane Gardner is chosen as the pilot of this weapon. The game's opening sequence shows Metal Attacker dropped into the battlefield.
The plot of the adapted Western release (Blaster Master) is shown at the beginning in a cinematic slideshow as ominous music plays in the background. The game starts with a person named Jason who has a pet frog named Fred who, one day, decides to leap out of his fish bowl, out the door, and down a hole in the back yard. Fred then touches a radioactive chest, and he grows to an enormous size; Fred and the chest then fall deeper into the hole in the earth. Jason chases Fred down the hole, which leads to a large underground cavern. While most sources say that Jason chased Fred down the hole, the game's instruction manual says that Jason fell into the hole while trying to reach for Fred. There, he finds an armored tank named SOPHIA THE 3RD – a vehicle designed to battle radioactive mutants that live inside the earth. Jason mounts SOPHIA to find the whereabouts of Fred and to destroy the mutants and their leader – the Plutonium Boss. The opening sequence has been described as "one of the greatest scenes in all of video games".
Blaster Master has two modes of gameplay that depends on the situation and location of the player; the first mode is where the player controls SOPHIA in a two–dimensional platform mode; the second mode is where the player controls Jason while outside SOPHIA in either the same 2D platform mode or in a top-down perspective. Gameplay in the top-down perspective consists of a series of labyrinths in which players navigate and defeat enemies along the way. Gameplay is non-linear, and players must return to earlier levels in order to advance to later levels in the game. The objective is to complete all eight levels and destroy the mutants and their bosses with various weaponry such as guns, grenades, and special weapons.
While Jason is inside SOPHIA in the 2D platforming mode, the player can attack the mutants with the main cannon (which can shoot up, left, and right determined by the orientation of the tank) or with one of three special weapons. Special weapons have limited ammunition which must be collected from exploring the game. They include the following: homing missiles that, when fired, shoot 1 missile at each enemy on screen up to 4; "Thunder Break", which fires a high-damage lightning bolt downward; and "Multi Warhead Missiles", which simultaneously fires a set of three missiles at enemies in front of and diagonally up and down. Players select their special weapon and monitor the amounts of each special weapon left by accessing the Menu Screen by pressing the Start button.
Gameplay in the top-down perspective consists of a series of labyrinths in which players defeat enemies along the way. The player switches between the 2D platforming mode and the top-down perspective by leaving the tank and entering small doorways located throughout the game. While in the top-down perspective, players can move Jason in any direction and destroy mutants with a gun or with hand grenades. In this mode, players upgrade the gun by collecting gun capsules, but the gun degrades by one point if Jason receives damage from mutants or hazardous objects. Here players obtain additional vehicle functions by destroying bosses; these functions include weapon upgrades as well as abilities to swim freely underwater, drive on walls and ceilings, and hover above the ground. The game has a glitch – colloquially known as the "grenade glitch" – to easily defeat four of the game's underbosses. To exploit this glitch, the player throws a grenade at the boss, and while the grenade is exploding and causing damage on the boss, the player pauses the game. While the remainder of the action on the screen freezes, the grenade remains active, continuing to damage the boss. After fifteen seconds the player unpauses the game to find that the boss is destroyed.
Jason and SOPHIA have separate power meters, and they decrease whenever they sustain damage by an enemy or any other hazardous object or whenever Jason falls from a high place. Players can replenish these power meters by collecting power capsules that appear throughout the game. Also, the player can replenish Jason's health to full at any time by re-entering SOPHIA. The player loses a life if either power meter runs out, and the game ends when all lives are lost. Players get five continues that allow them to restart the game at the same level in which they have lost all their lives. A "hover gauge" monitors the amount of thrust remaining in SOPHIA and is located on the left side of the screen above the power meter; additional thrust can be obtained by collecting hover capsules.
The game was released by Sunsoft in Japan as Chô Wakusei Senki Metafight (also simply called Metafight) on June 17, 1988 . It was released under the title Blaster Master in North America in November 1988 and in Europe on April 25, 1991 . Metafight, along with Ripple Island, was re-released for the PlayStation in Volume 4 of Sunsoft's Memorial Series in 2002. The game was released for the Wii's Virtual Console service in North America on December 14, 2009 . The game's Virtual Console release marked Sunsoft's first North American release since deciding to return to developing video games for the Western market through its partnership with Gaijinworks. Metafight was released for the Virtual Console in Japan on June 29, 2010 for the Wii and on September 5, 2012 for the Nintendo 3DS. It was also released in North America for the 3DS on July 24, 2014 along with another Sunsoft game Ufouria: The Saga, which released for the Wii U.
Blaster Master was created by Kenji Sada (credited as Senta), who also led the development of The Wing of Madoola and wrote its main code. The game was made by a part-time development team of about five people, which included team leader and main-programmer Sada, sub-programmer Kenji Kajita (Kanz), character designer Hiroyuki Kagoya (Fanky), art designer Yoshiaki Iwata (PGM F-1), and sound programmer Naohisa Morota (Marumo). Iwata, who would direct the reimagining Blaster Master: Overdrive, did the game's opening sequence and designed the map, overall layout, and bosses. In a 2010 interview, Iwata said: "we were trying to make the best action game to date, with all that entails. With SOPHIA (the game’s vehicle), we wanted to bring to life a sense of action that incorporated all 360° of the environment in a way that players hadn’t really experienced up to that point. Along with that, we wanted large, expansive maps so that we could support that vision."
The game's art design came from Iwata, who was able to transport his original ideas directly into the game as far as the NES' graphical capabilities could be taken at that time. He said: "the goal was really to try to pull off the best graphics on the NES to date. Simple graphics were more or less the standard on the NES at the time but I had this firm belief that it was possible to do something better, something prettier. I feel like we pulled it off and were able to show people what could be done [on the NES]. It left an impression around the office, and from what I've heard [the visuals] influenced the work of other games that were later made by other NES developers as well." The game's music and sound were designed in cooperation between Sunsoft's staff and an outside composer, Naoki Kodaka, who had previously worked on scores for many of the company's other titles. Iwata credited him for giving the company a good reputation for video game music in the late 1980s and lamented that "none of those people are working together anymore since they've all separated from Sunsoft [over the years]".
Sada created the system of alternating between the 2D platforming and top-down modes. During the game's planning, he came up with the idea that SOPHIA would eventually be able to go anywhere in the game, including navigating on the ceilings and walls. He created the top-down portions to allow Jason to shoot in all directions and to enable the team to "express large bosses that really had an impact". He did not want to design the gameplay in a linear progression; instead he drew inspiration from and was influenced by Nintendo's Metroid to create a game that allowed players to freely move between levels. According to Iwata: "We wanted the player to experience the feeling of excitement that comes from discovering something after endeavoring through a difficult search, which is why we composed a map that allowed the player to move freely between different areas. We really put a great deal of thought into that element of the game design and, I mean this in the best possible way, but we wanted the player to have to struggle."
Chô Wakusei Senki Metafight was released for the Famicom in Japan on June 17, 1988. While Sunsoft's development team, headed by Iwata, were confident that they produced a great game, it did not sell well in Japan and, as a result, was not received well within Sunsoft. The game was released in North America on November 1988. The game was localized from Metafight in Japan to Blaster Master for Western markets. In North America, plot elements normally present in anime (as featured in Metafight) were not yet popular; Sunsoft's U.S. division asked the Japanese development team to change the game's original plot elements. Hence, the game's plot changed to that of Jason and his pet frog Fred, and name of the planet "Sophia the 3rd" in Metafight became the name of Jason's tank in Blaster Master. The original staff also omitted a portion of the map in the fourth level in which "the player was forced to control Jason and make a desperate suicide-leap for a ladder suspended in mid-air," after complaints from the U.S. staff.
No sequel was originally planned due to the game's poor sales; Iwata already started development on another game when the North American release Blaster Master sold well. The game's impact led Sunsoft to develop titles with similar top-down gameplay like Gremlins 2: The New Batch and Fester's Quest, the latter of whose main designer had helped design the characters for Blaster Master.
The game has received notable recognition in gaming magazines. It was featured on the cover of the premiere issue of VideoGames & Computer Entertainment in December 1988. Electronic Gaming Monthly listed the game at #1 in its "Top Ten Games" list in the premiere issue. In Nintendo Power, the game debuted at #12 in its "Top 30" NES games list in its March–April 1989 issue; it later climbed to #6 from May to August 1989, before it peaked at #5 in September, behind Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Super Mario Bros. 2, Ninja Gaiden, and The Legend of Zelda.
Scholastic Books published a novelization of Blaster Master, written by Peter Lerangis under the pen name "A.L. Singer". The book was part of the Worlds of Power series – a collection of loose novelizations of various NES games. He wrote similar novelizations for Ninja Gaiden, Infiltrator, and Bases Loaded II: Second Season. As with the other books in the series, all acts of violence portrayed in the games, including any death scenes, were removed. As a result, the bosses were portrayed in the book as "holographic projections placed over formless blobs". Shawn Struck and Scott Sharkey from 1UP.com said that Blaster Master was the hardest book for Lerangis to write because of the lack of a middle plot; he had to come up with details that were not in the game to connect the game's actual opening and conclusion. Sunsoft would use Lerangis' novel as the plot for the game's sequel, Blaster Master: Blasting Again, making the novel the only one in the Worlds of Power series to be canonized in a video game series.
Blaster Master received praise from reviewers for its gameplay. Weekly Famitsu gave it a 32 out of 40 score.  In a 1988 Electronic Game Player (later known as Electronic Gaming Monthly) review, Steve Ryno lauded the concept of combining two "radically different" video game genres into one continuous game. He added that the top-down portion contributes further to the depth of gameplay and said that "everything works well without the game becoming crowded or unbalanced". The game was featured as one of the "Truly Awesome" games in Game Players' 1988 buyer's guide. In a 1992 review in UK magazine Mean Machines, Julian Rignall, praised the overall gameplay and the tank's control and movements, while co-reviewer Matt Regan enjoyed the game's fast-paced gameplay and abundance of rooms and bonus areas to explore. Jeremy Parish from 1UP.com praised the gameplay, saying that the player can explore the map "Metroidvania style" in a large, responsive tank while occasionally having to leave the tank to explore on foot – something that he compares to the Warthog sequences in the original Halo video game. Nintendo Life's Corbie Dillard praised the game's responsive controls and for its non-linearity. GamesRadar ranked it the 21st best NES game ever made and felt that it was ahead of its time.
The game received positive reviews for its graphics and sound. Ryno praised the attention to detail in the graphics, adding that they transition well between levels as new and diverse environments are introduced. He also praised the fluid animation and movement of creatures in the top-down perspective and its music; he found music "pleasing" and noted that different tracks were scored for each separate level. Dillard praised the game's impressive graphics, saying that the graphics are varied, distinctive, and well-drawn; he adds that Sunsoft "did their homework" in this regard. He called the music in the game as one of the best chiptunes in the 8-bit era, noting the up-tempo tracks and high-quality sound effects. IGN's Mark Syan Sallee described the music "as memorable as anything from Nintendo", while Regan said that the game's sound effects and music bolster the gameplay and graphical atmosphere.
One of the main criticisms of Blaster Master has been its difficulty. IGN's Levi Buchanan mentioned the lack of passwords or save features as used in Metroid; the game had to be completed in one sitting. They added that some players need to exploit the "grenade glitch" to beat some of the bosses. Buchanan criticized the game for its difficulty in the on-foot portions, saying that the bosses are too difficult to beat, that the enemies regenerate upon re-entering a screen, and that players can lose a life from falling too far in the 2D platforming mode. IGN's Lucas Thomas agreed about the lack of passwords or save features, saying that because of the game's difficulty, dying near the end of the game and having to restart the game all over again without passwords or save points have caused much frustration for players. Parish criticized the game for having a limited number of continues and for the graphics in the top-down perspective, saying that the display is "incredibly cutesy compared to the tank sections, with the protagonist's head providing about 50% of his total body mass".
Some reviewers have found other criticisms in the gameplay. Buchanan mentioned that the character holds his gun in his right hand, requiring the player to compensate by moving left before shooting enemies (if the player can move left on the screen). Thomas echoed Buchanan's concerns in a later review, adding that this requires players to mentally adjust and to target enemies off-center. Thomas criticized the control of the tank, in particular the lack of traction, which he said may cause players to roll off a platform or cliff. Parish criticized the gameplay in the top-down perspective, saying that the gun the players uses is too weak; he continues by adding that there are too few upgrades for it and that, whenever the player takes damage, it downgrades from a "high-powered beam of death" to "a stupid unreliable peashooter of mild discomfort".
Nintendo Power reviewed the game in its February 1993 issue, as part of an overview of NES games that the magazine felt were overlooked or otherwise did not sell well. The review said that Sunsoft should have used a licensed character to improve sales. However, they praised its graphics and gameplay, saying that "the action switches between side-scrolling stages and stages that have a Zelda-ish view".
The game has since appeared on many lists for the best games on the console. Later, in its 100th issue in September 1997, Nintendo Power listed the game as 63rd in its "100 Best Games of All Time" list, citing its "fast and furious" gameplay. Electronic Gaming Monthly listed it at #184 in its "Top 200 Games of Their Time" list. IGN listed it as #22 in its "Top 100 NES Games" list. 1UP.com listed the game as the 11th best NES game of all time in its "Top 25 NES Games" list; the 1UP.com staff said the game was "an action game that worked like a mishmash of every NES game before it", noting the expansive map like in Metroid. Paste magazine ranked Blaster Master as the 2nd greatest NES game of all time, behind The Legend of Zelda; they cited the tank's additional abilities as a main reason behind its ranking.
In a 2010 interview with Iwata, he was surprised about the game's reception outside Japan, which retrogamers have named it as one of their favorite and most memorable 8-bit titles. He said: "It’s kind of funny that the first time I ever really had any sense of the game’s success was about 10 years following the original release of Blaster Master, when a young staff member from the U.S. office said something to me like, 'You’d definitely have become a super famous game designer if you were an American.'" Alex Neuse, creator of the Bit.Trip series, reminisced his memories of playing Blaster Master as a child. He acknowledged that the game was a clone of Metroid that featured a tank that could jump and a corny storyline, but he said it was all "presented in a way that it felt meaningful". He added that the game's music convinced him "that video game music could be high-quality, memorable, and evocative".
Sequels and remakes
At the 1992 Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Sunsoft announced that they were planning to develop a sequel for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, but it never came to be. Instead, Software Creations developed the North American–exclusive sequel Blaster Master 2 for the Sega Genesis. Later releases include Blaster Master Boy for the Game Boy, Blaster Master: Enemy Below (released in Japan as MetaFight EX) for the Game Boy Color, and Blaster Master: Blasting Again for the PlayStation.
A re-imagining of the first game, Blaster Master: Overdrive, was released for Nintendo's WiiWare service in North America on February 8, 2010 . Iwata incorporated many of the gameplay elements in the remake Blaster Master: Overdrive, which his goal was "for players to recall and think back upon (the original) Blaster Master, and so my goal was to find a way to evoke that through this game."
On April Fools' Day on April 1, 2010 , Sunsoft announced that a sequel to the game would be released on the Virtual Console titled Blaster Master: Destination Fred. According to their press release, the game was only purported to be tested on several PlayChoice-10 machines in the Los Angeles area between 1988 and 1989. Upon discovery of copies of the game in Sunsoft's headquarters in Japan, Gaijinworks' founder Victor Ireland said: "I was blown away when I saw these. When I was going through boxes of stored code, promotional items, and ROMs to see what we had on hand to release for the U.S. Virtual Console market, finding these nine completely unknown cartridges literally stunned me. I knew it had to be put up on the Virtual Console as fast as we could make it happen."
The story was supposed to continue with the English plot of the first Blaster Master game. The Plutonium Boss originally intended to inject Jason and Fred with microbots that, even if Jason managed to defeat him, would kill both Jason and Fred, but he could only inject Fred. Jason and SOPHIA the 3rd are then shrunken and injected inside Fred to do battle with the microbots and their contraptions – something which Ireland described as "a pretty clear video game spin on Fantastic Voyage kind of adventure". It was planned to be released for the Virtual Console on April 26, 2010 for 500 Wii points. IGN's Daemon Hatfield, after discovering nothing about Blaster Master: Destination Fred in any video game archives, suspected that this was an April Fools' Day hoax; he said, however, that after the release of Dark Void Zero it was possible for Sunsoft to release a new 8-bit title. Destructoid's Conrad Zimmerman strongly suspected that this was also a hoax; he said that there was no proof of the game's existence except for it temporarily being mentioned on Wikipedia and that "Nintendo never lets anybody say when their games are coming out on Virtual Console". Sunsoft later confirmed on their website that the sequel was an April Fools' Day hoax.
On November 5, 2016, at the 20th Anniversary Fan Festa event in Ichikawa, Japan, Inti Creates announced that they acquired the license of the original Blaster Master game from Sunsoft, and on March 9, 2017, Blaster Master Zero, a retro 8-bit style remake of the original NES game, was released for the Nintendo 3DS eShop and Nintendo Switch.
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[A]ccording to Gimmick! creator Tomomi Sakai, Tokai is just a dummy company, like Konami’s Ultra and Palcom brands, created to circumvent Nintendo’s rules restricting the number of games a developer could publish for the Famicom/NES in a year. Former Sunsoft programmer and Trip World creator Yuichi Ueda, Blaster Master creator Kenji Sada, and current Chief Director of SUNSOFT Shigeki Shimizu confirm this. Tokai is a dummy company.
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